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Europe 2010: Where to Look for the Best Deals

SmarterTravel

Surveys tell us that lots of you are thinking about heading for Europe this spring or summer. If so, you’re likely to find steady hotel prices, but future airfares are very iffy. Over the years, I’ve cautioned you to avoid tunnel vision on airfares and instead look at total trip costs, including hotels and internal transportation. That’s still a valid rule, but airfares look like they will, in fact, become more critical this year than last.

First, as to where to go. I’m not a big fan of selecting a destination just because it offers low costs—after all, if that’s your controlling objective, small-town USA is your ideal spot. Many of Europe’s top destinations offer a truly unique experience, and if that’s what you want, you pay whatever it takes to visit there at what you consider a suitable level of comfort.

Still, relative costs enter many travel plans, so I’m happy to pass along the results of a just-published report on hotel prices. According to Trivago, a big British online travel agency, of Europe’s 50 most popular destination cities, the lowest average prices for a double hotel room are in Budapest, Granada, and Krakow, all in the range of €61 to €66 (currently $85 to $91) per night. All three cities are great destinations, by the way, and well worth your consideration. Other low-cost cities include Bucharest, Dresden, Istanbul, Lisbon, Prague, Seville, Valencia, and Vienna, again all really great destinations. Although a bit over the minimum levels, Berlin, Dresden, and Hanover are good for Germany, but stay away from Cologne and Frankfurt.

The highest prices are in Geneva ($235), but Copenhagen, London, Oslo, Paris, and Stockholm all top out at $175 or higher. If you want France, you’ll find better rates in Nice and smaller cities. Glasgow ($110) is your best bet for the United Kingdom, and, as far as I can tell, just about all of Scandinavia should be off-limits to budget travelers. The report did not cover less-popular destinations in Eastern Europe, such as Belgrade, Riga, and Tallinn, generally regarded as low-cost areas, but those places didn’t pull enough visitors to make the top-50 cut.

Of course, these figures are averages. Dedicated budget travelers can always find down-market accommodations at substantially below-average room rates. But the averages are a pretty good guide to relative costs at whatever comfort level you pursue.

Airfares are a much bigger question. Right now, at least some lines are promoting close-in sales to Europe. Lufthansa, for example, currently hypes round trips to several Eastern European cities at fares as low as $642, round trip, New York-Krakow, including all taxes and fees, but that’s for departures within a few weeks. It’s also hyping very low business class fares, too, but with a 50-day advance purchase minimum.

In general, I find spring fares to be stiff and, at least so far, summer fares to be very high. Examples include Boston-Paris, travel in April, on nonstop flights, starting at $843. Peak season prices for that trip are even higher, ranging from an “opaque” quote on Expedia of $918 (you don’t know the airline until you actually buy the ticket), to $937 to $1,086 for one-stop connecting flights and a minimum of $1,274 for nonstop flights both ways. By my book, that’s really stiff.

In fact, prices currently quoted for summer travel are high enough that I’d give serious consideration to waiting for a “sale” to come along with substantially better deals. I suspect that the prices being quoted now are going to discourage travel to the extent that the airlines are going to have to offer cuts if they want to fill their planes.

Obviously, waiting for a sale is a gamble, and if you lose, you might wind up paying even more. I’d take that gamble, but you might find it unacceptable—it’s a personal choice.

Have you booked your ticket to Europe for spring or summer travel yet? Have you seen any great deals on airfare or hotels for Europe travel? Share your thoughts, experiences, and advice by submitting a comment below!

(Editor’s Note: SmarterTravel is a member of the TripAdvisor Media Network, an operating company of Expedia, Inc. Expedia, Inc. also owns Expedia.com.)

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